Soteriological Scope

spyglass“Soteriology” a religion’s view  of how people are saved [Greek: soterion=”salvation”].   “Saved” from what?  Saved from death.  A religion’s soteriology tells us who has eternal life and who doesn’t.

“Soteriological Scope” is my phrase to explore the narrowness of a religion’s afterlife myths.  Exploring a person’s Scope of Salvation can often help a religious dialogue between believers of different faiths. Fruitful dialogue only occurs as both believers move toward pluralism.  Below are the four classic soteriological scopes.

  1. Exclusivism: Only believers in our faith are saved.  Only our religion is true. Only those who explicitly claim our faith in this life are saved.
  2. Inclusivism: Non-believers can be saved, but they must still be saved by the means of our religion.  They may not need to be saved in this life, but may have the opportunity after death.   And in this life, it is possible that their own religion may indeed aid them in preparing for final salvation or for making good works possible in this life.
  3. Pluralism:  Non-believers can be saved even throught the means of their own religion.  Though not every one will be necessarily saved. Some will not be saved if they don’t use their religions properly.
  4. Universalism:  Everyone has the same fate.  There are two versions of this.
    a)  All will be saved no matter what they do or believe
    b)  No one will be saved because there is nothing to be saved from.

My Soteriological Scope:

As an atheist, I am a Universalist (type b).  My journey out of Christianity was slow — I transitioned from exclusivist to inclusivist to pluralist — and even now, the mystical side of myself is a pluralist, I guess.  My mystical side believes that if anything does survive death, it will not be anything you call yourself.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

16 responses to “Soteriological Scope

  1. I prefer a fifth category. Don’t know what to call it — No one is saved because there is nothing to be saved from. : )

  2. @Ramble : You are absolutely right! I edited it to the post. Thank you.

  3. Is there yet another option? Can a religious person affirm the truth of their own faith while claiming admiration and respect but ultimately agnostic views on another person’s?

    This might be a way of staying loyal to a faith tradition while at the same time recognizing that other people in other traditions are having valid, separate experiences of their own. In some ways, I imagine this is similar to what an Atheist lives every day when surrounded by religious people.

    Let me give an example: I recently skimmed a USA Today article which proudly announced that “most Americans now believe that there are many paths to Heaven” or something similar. It featured quotes from every day people who expressed opinions similar to “Muslims, Budhists and Hindus all go to heaven.”

    I found this humorous and perhaps tragically naive. A Buddhist doesn’t want to go or even believe in “heaven.” And the Muslim’s notion of eternal paradise is far different from what many modern Christians call “heaven,” or the ancient Hebrew idea of “renewed creation.”

    The problem with these inclusivist stances is that they inherently compromise the central teachings of many religions–not just their own. At that point, we can ask how authentically “Christian” or “Muslim” this person really is, or whether they’re really just Secular Humanists with a religious shell.

    When my non-christian friends ask me for my opinions along these lines, I typically answer something similar to, “I cannot tell you what happens to a Muslim or Buddhist when they die. I can’t even tell you for sure what will happen to me. But I can tell you what I believe I can hope for as a Christian.”

    If a religious person, a Christian for example, were to take this non-exclusive but still very authentic and historic stance, wouldn’t true inter-faith dialogue still be possible or perhaps, even improved?

  4. Reed, I like that agnostic thought a bit. I edited my post in light of it. Thank you — take a look.

    I think an agnostic position is still either incluvistic or pluristic — if it is honest agnosticism. As long as “agnostic” is not just a smug way to have non-believers look at you as open-minded, I don’t mind. But I think people shoud be honest about which way they lean. I have had many Christians claim to me to be agnostics (“It is up to God”, “Only God knows”) but with only a little discussion reveal their real theology. Or I have heard these people talk to their kids or fellow Christians and give away their exclusivist deep positions. The positions are not merely intellectual, you can tell when someone holds these exclusivist attitudes at a deep level.

    I find your term “tragically naive” to be an exaggeration. When people say “Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus all go to heaven.” I think they are really saying that they don’t necessarily believe people in other religions automatically go to a hell. You are taking them too literally, they are not trying to be theologians. You should give them a generous translation there.

    Remember, of course I don’t care at all that:

    The problem with these inclusivist stances is that they inherently compromise the central teachings of many religions–not just their own. At that point, we can ask how authentically “Christian” or “Muslim” this person really is, or whether they’re really just Secular Humanists with a religious shell.

    I’d be tickled pink if their were “just” Secular Humanists.

    So I would encourage you next time you talk to your “non-Christian” friends, to be honest about your heart. Tell them if you lean inclusivist or exclusivist. Be honest with yourself. I think with a little introspection, your own intuitions should be obvious. Stop sitting on the fence about this — it has important implications about how a religious person treats and relates to others. It is worth thinking through. IMHO.

  5. Sabio,
    I just wanted to say that I think your response to my fellow theophiliac is right on. As someone who leans strongly in the pluralist/universalist camp (see my posts on pluralism) I have often struggled with Reed and others on this issue. I think it is important to distinguish between a theological ideology and pragmatics when it comes to religions outside of your own. Ideologically speaking, Reed’s position is similar to mine. However, as you pointed out, what really matters is how your ideology affects your actions toward those of other faiths. Can one hold to an agnostic view of others while still seeing their perspective as equal to their own? Does one who is agnostic to other faiths have the ability to glean value from the experiences of practitioners of those faiths? Reed is right to point out the differances in theology of post-mortem existance. That said, it seems that pragmatically speaking one would have to dismiss post-mortum theology as secondary to ethical theology in order for this true agnosticism to bring any value.

    In light of your response to this post, I have one question for you. Why have you chosen Christianities theology of heaven over say Buddhism’s nirvana or Islam’s paradise?

  6. Oooh, it’s a theophiliac reunion!

    I don’t think it is necessarily contradictory to be inclusivist Reed. I am inclusivist in as much as I would expect to “see” people of other faith traditions in “heaven” without being made to be “post-mortem Christians.” I would see them being included in the work of God already accomplished by Christ not as being being included in “Christianity.”

    I think that Augustine hits the nail on the head when he sees God kindling desire for himself. It is from him that C. S. Lewis gets his theology in “The Last Battle”

  7. A. D. Hunt, so would you follow Rahner’s “anonymous Christian” concept?

  8. For readers
    Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner (d. 1984) was a inclusivist who felt that a person could explicitly deny Christianity, but in reality “existentially is committed to those values which for the Christian are concretized in God. He never intended the term to sound derogatory, but boy, the way Richard uses it in his curt question… (smile). Seems like he wants ADHunt to confess to heresy.
    See Wiki

  9. Richard,

    Far be it from me to disagree with Karl Rahner, from whom I’ve learned much (including his doctrine of Scripture – since we’ve been talking about it); but I would want to locate “Christian” more objectively than that. A Christian would be someone who trusts in the Gospel and who has been baptized.

    I think Rahner was operating under a “no salvation outside of the Church” model, and so in order for him to be inclusive he needed to put those “saved” into the Church – but I would (with Luther) suggest there is “no salvation outside of Christ,” so that a devout person of another faith, being drawn by the same God, but being deficient in picture, would be reconciled to God by grace and not the Sacraments.

  10. For readers:
    C.S.Lewis in his last book of the Narnia series, had a non-Narnian (Tisroc) and follower of a false Lord (Tash) be accepted by Aslan saying, “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.” Aslan continues, “Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”
    You can type in “Lewis Universalism” and see all the Christian posts debating the heresy of their hero C.S.Lewis.

  11. Sabio,

    re: Lewis. I’ve always found it ironic that conservative evangelicals love him considering his sexual deviency, smoking, drinking, love of pagan literature, overt neo-platonism, religious inclusivism, non-biblical-inerrancy, etc…

    That’s why I love him. They love him in spite of it.

  12. Pingback: My Favorite Type of Christians « Triangulations

  13. Good post, with some comment fodder too. I’ve got potentially one more category in-between Exclusive and Inclusive, or perhaps just a sub-category of Exclusive. I would call it “God’s gonna getcha.” Here’s how it works:

    Only our faith (exclusive) will bring Salvation. A non-believer can do whatever they want; worship other gods, worship the earth, be an atheist, whatever. When the time is right, and if it is God’s will, He will step into that person’s life in an irrefutable way, which will subsequently result in conversion to the faith and associated Salvation.

    I’m not sure exactly what you meant by the ability to have “True religious dialog,” but I would venture to say that it is possible with the Exclusivists who hold the above view, at least to some extent. From the few that I have met, they seem to be more open minded and open hearted, even if they (probably) think I am just sadly deluded. 😉

    Curiously, I think such a view is also a coping mechanism. That way, if you like someone who is not saved, you can comfort your mind with the thought that God will save them eventually.

  14. @Wise Fool
    If I am not mistake, your view is Calvinistic and still exclusive. But you are right, I might have been a little too pessimistic with my claim. I will edit it. Thanks.

  15. @adhunt, What do you mean “overt neo-platonism!” OK, seriously, I had to Google this and I’m still not sure I know what the heck it means. Somebody give me a clue please.

  16. @ haydendlinder,
    Since Catholics are very concerned about heresy, you may find this Catholic Encyclopedia article on neo-platonism will help.

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